Thursday, 12 February 2009

A Bookworm in Budapest

Oh my golly the Bratislava entry was obscenely long. Which is ironic, since I have been applying for web content coordinator roles all week with sentences like, “I understand the importance of using as few words as possible when writing for the web”. Which is a really badly constructed sentence, come to think, and probably why I didn’t get asked for an interview.

In any case, the Budapest entry is going to be a model of well-written web content. Maybe. OK, it’s totally not going to be, but I needed to acknowledge that this blog’s been fairly impenetrable lately. Sorry!

Budapest has long been my I-have-absolutely-no-idea-European-history-geography answer in Trivial Pursuit (I know, most people prefer Helsinki). So I was quite excited to actually learn some stuff about it. Which is why I spent most of my time in Budapest talking to Australians and reading novels. Doh, etc.

First up, Budapest is not at all Eastern Bloc-esque. Unlike Bratislava, it doesn’t have a whiff of the Soviet about it. It’s far more imperial – like a Vienna or Buenos Aires or Paris.

Secondly, because Hungarian is so linguistically obscure, I thought the whole place would feel far more foreign than the rest of Europe. Nope. It’s all castles and gelato and H&M. And turkish baths, I’ll concede.

Thirdly, Budapest is very cool, like (once again) Paris or Buenos Aires is cool. Locals are not impressed or excited by tourists, even tourists from Koala!Country. They are all very well dressed, and have some awesome local designers and really cool stores. You need them more than they need you.

Which isn’t to say I didn’t like Budapest, and wouldn’t go back in a second. It was unspeakably pretty, and, I suspect, extremely liveable. Plus, me and the girlies from my dorm (all Australian. Oops) went to this fab bar one night, in a (I think) falling down office block, and if the tourists can find an awesome bar with actual, like, atmosphere, then goodness knows the awesome-ness of the places that the locals are drinking in.

Because I’m a total geek, the thing I remember most fondly about Budapest is actually Red Bus Books. I really relish the reading opportunities that travel creates. In fact, the efficiency of European rail travel kind of annoys me sometimes, because you don’t get those six hours delays that happen in other parts of the world (Air Canada should totally change its slogan to "We give you enough time to read The Complete Dickens!"). Still, by the time I got to Budapest, I’d already devoured everything I’d brought over with me, as well as a few things I’d gained in crappy one shelf hostel book swaps.

Actually, I’ll pause here and give two quick book recommendations:

A Household Guide to Dying – I bought this because I knew it was set in Sydney, and I’m always interested to see how other people describe my hometown (and whilst I’m digressing, IMO the two best “Sydney” books I’ve read are Playing Beattie Bow and Looking for Alibrandi. Both ostensibly kids (well, young adult) books, but I’ve always loved how familiar LFA’s Sydney is – she works at the Parramatta Road Maccas, for goodness sake – and PBB is The Rocks for me, really). However, it brought to mind a much more specific home than the Bridge and Opera House. It reminded me of my Steel Magnolias/Beaches obsessed family.

My mum and my sister will both absolutely adore this book. My sister, especially. In fact, if there was ever a book written for my sister, this is it. Melodrama and autopsies. But not too melodramatic. Nobody declares "It is my name, and I shall never have another!".

Bit of a Blur – Alex James from Blur’s autobiography. As hedonistic as you’d expect, but also kind and mature and reasoned and neither guilt-ridden nor judgemental. He’s either a genuinely lovely person, or an excellent fiction writer who has created this fabulous persona. Maybe both.

Anyhoo, back to Red Bus Books. It’s a second hand English language bookstore where travellers and expats drop off and pick up books. It has the biggest and most reasonably priced collection of English books I saw in continental Europe, and I left with as many goodies as I could possibly fit in my already over-stuffed bags (The Line of Beauty, which is AMAZING, and even better than the BBC mini-series, and, erm, two of the Gossip Girl novels, which I don’t find nearly as compelling as the TV series, actually. Not enough Chuck.)

What I liked most was seeing the books that people choose to take on holiday with them. There’s A LOT of repetition on those shelves. There’s an entire Harry Potter section, for instance. More Da Vinci Codes than you can point an albino monk at (I haven’t read the book or seen the movie, and still I know about the albino monk. Sigh). 9 St 12 lbs of Bridget Jones. And a much larger than expected self-help section, which made me laugh, because it’s so something I (and Bridget, for that matter) would do – decide that this holiday is going to be a major turning point, where I read up and get ready to return home thinner/more assertive/less single/a better cook. Then get to the holiday destination and decide I’d rather eat cake and go to awesome bars set in falling down office blocks instead.

1 comment:

Kel said...

I've ordered "The Household Guide to Dying" and am expecting melodramatic autopsies. I better not be dissapointed! I also ordered "Cutting the Cord" by the same author which may be useful because though I did witness the actual cutting of the umbilical cord, there remains a 'virtual' cord which has ensured that I have never been to the toilet or showered alone since.

I've only ever heard positive things about Budapest so I'm glad you liked it too. I want to go...lets go there sometime with Patsy, OK!